Opening with the same fade-up technique that first greeted listeners forty years ago, Thick As A Brick 2 quickly establishes itself as something new. After the oddly familiar opening, it slips into an organ-driven riff that, if it were amplified ten times might have come from Dream Theater. Moving ninety degrees to the side, the music then quickly slips into an acoustic flourish that might have come from any period of Fairport Convention.
Suddenly there is a riff that screams progressive jazz rock and, after a minute and a half, it settles into an acoustic interlude that slips right into a nod at straight rock. The music may seem to be all over the place, but the opening can only be described as Tull-like, near the finest that Ian Anderson has ever been. TAAB 2 won’t convert many new fans, which is a shame, but a lot of older Tull fans are sure going to be happy. The mixture of folk and rock with nods to jazz and progressive rock is near perfect.
A little after two minutes, the music references an older version Tull for the first time. Right after Anderson sings “Journey’s I might never take” the song slips in a few quick bars of a recognizable Tull song you’ll swear you know, but aren’t exactly sure what it is. The answer hangs in the back of your head but there is no time to think about it because Anderson is already moving forward. This isn’t the first time that the past is acknowledged. Nor is it the first time that he races right by the past.
The instrumental that follows the first three minutes is pure Anderson/Tull at its best. You can easily hear why Anderson is so welcome on Fairport’s Cropredy stage when he is given the chance. There are biting guitars, unexpected left turns in the middle of songs and more than anything, wonderful flute. Musically this is one of the most satisfying and challenging Anderson releases in a while.
As Anderson has said many times over the last few years, the original Thick As A Brick was as much a send up of concepts as it was a concept itself. The original Thick As A Brick was based on a poem by one Gerald Bostock, a 14 year old who ran afoul of the local press for the subjects he tackled.
Thick As A Brick 2 moves from Bostock’s problems with local censorship to the life of the author of the poem. It becomes a biography of the young man’s long 40-year journey. He moves from being a successful banker to homelessness. Various stages of his life are recounted in and out of order.
Starting as a banker, he becomes Adrift and Dumbfounded Bostock becomes the Military Man. Unlike the original, which seemed at times to lyrically drift, Anderson tightly grounds Bostock’s life in real events, real times and real reactions.
This is as much a concept album about alienation and loss as is Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Only this time the central character is one of us, not a removed and disenchanted rock star that is a million miles removed from our own shared collective experience. Bostock could be any one of us, just moving through life trying to get by as best we can.
As the story unfolds, Anderson takes precise and detailed looks at banks, the military, religion, the cruelty of others toward someone who is different from them and the gentile comfort of suburbia. Little of what he says condemns anything he speaks of. Instead Anderson sets scenes, allowing us the distance of time and age to make up our own minds.
Where Aqualung once condemned religion directly, Anderson places Bostock’s foray into Religion before us and by grounding it inside the character, makes it personal.
“I sense the power. And I sense the spirit move in stately corridors of oak and stone, vaulted above.
Beyond the nave, beside dark transepts, candles flicker in the quire.
First the glow deep in the belly, tight grip of faith to fan the fire.
In the chapel, I am wondrous in the eyes of lesser boys.
Raptures touch me, lift me, shape me. Brotherhood, an ode to joy.”
This is the rational logic that drives an individual into religious conversion. That conversion, that fire, may not last, and indeed it doesn’t, but for a minute Little Gerald has found the Lord. We can sympathize with his need to connect with something bigger until the very last moment when he pleads for the listener to “Give till it hurts. Give till it hurts.”
This time, at the very last minute of the song, the religious cynicism that threaded its way through much of Aqualung reveals itself in just a few words. “Give till it hurts.” Faith may be at the center of what is being said, but at the very end, it comes down to money.
Given the focus on Bostock’s life, those who love minutiae and detail can sit in their basements for hours and debate whether this can actually be a sequel. It may share a title with the original, but TAAB 2 is its own piece. Almost everyone else is just going to enjoy over fifty minutes of brand new music from Anderson in the Tull vein.
Which brings up another, inescapable part of this release, one that has caused some long time fans concern.
Anderson has never been less than honest either lyrically or in interviews. He has billed this release as Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson for a reason. It stands apart from his solo work. And while Anderson is also the acknowledged leader in Tull, it is apart from the Tull canon as well.
The biggest note in this claim is the absence of Martin Barre, Anderson’s long time guitarist in Tull. There are brief moments when the tone of Barre’s guitar and the way he can rip into a great lead could have made the CD different. (This is not meant to denigrate guitarist Florian Opahale’s great work in any way.)
That said, Barre’s presence would have only made TAAB 2 a bit different. At the heart of this CD, as there is at the best of Tull’s work, is the brilliance, music and leadership/director’s ability of Ian Anderson.
Even with Barre’s long service and his highly individualistic style, Tull has always been Anderson’s home. You can’t help but feel that throughout the cycle that Anderson is fully engaged. The use of his own band doesn’t diminish this work one bit.
There are a lot of other classic rockers and writers who would have fallen back into their familiar names and claimed this was by their original band, but Anderson knows TAAB 2 isn’t by Jethro Tull. The Tull that created the original Thick as A Brick was a hard worn, tight touring unit that walked into a studio forty years ago and brought Anderson’s work to life. TAAB 2 is a work based on something by that original band. It is different and he knows it and he doesn’t lie to us about this.
Thick as A Brick 2 holds an amazing narrative about one man’s life. It jumps across time and, as Anderson always has, jumps across musical genres. There are plenty of nods to Tull’s past such as the scratchy ‘Locomotive Breath’ guitar on “Kismet in Suburbia” and the ever present flute, but TAAB 2 never slips into nostalgia.
It is one of the best releases that Anderson has delivered in quite a while. It is his most lyrically engaging work, and by looking directly into the eyes of his past he has found something new to say musically.
If there is any doubt that this is really a sequel to the original, take the very last lyric:
So, you ride yourselves over the fields.
And you make all your animal deals.
And your wise men don’t know how it feels
to be Thick As A Brick…… two
Ending with something vague or inexact isn’t Anderson’s style. He declares this “…Two.” And he delivers that last word with a wink.
But the most telling part of that lyric is actually the second line. “And you make your animal deals.” For that is really what is at the heart of much of this album, the deals we make with ourselves and each other in order to stay alive, in order to keep going each and every day.
Pushed and cajoled by executives for years to make a sequel to a time-honored classic number one album, Anderson made a deal with them, his audience and himself. And delivered in style with wit, grace and intelligence.
The CD is available in both a single CD release and a special edition with a 5.1 mix and a DVD. In addition to the Tull website, fans of the new CD may want to visit the St. Cleve Chronicles website. This is the modern equivalent to the original’s newspaper. http://www.stcleve.com/. IF you visit the Tull site there is a wonderful piece from Anderson that explains the genesis of the project as well as many excerpts from the CD and much more. http://www.j-tull.com/.
Release Date: April 3, 2012
— Mark Squirek